Thursday, October 8, 2015

Sleep Training for Adults

Since I'm in my mid-30s, I tend to come across a lot of posts that talk about sleep training for babies as many of the people in my life have infants and small children.  I hear and read about them talking about the exhaustion, the interrupted sleep, and the sleepless nights, and I think - me, too, sister.  Let me be clear, though.  When I say that, I'm not trying to compare my sleep issues with their challenges.  I know their exhaustion is so much bigger than mine as they are providing 24/7 care for an infant.  But I do understand the challenge and frustration of sleep deprivation.  I know what it is like to feel like a zombie as that is how I felt during the month of August when my sleep quality was at an all-time low.

Those feelings of exhaustion and frustration led me to meet with a sleep specialist at the end of August.  After filling out a long questionnaire, tracking my sleep for 10 days, and having a long discussion about my sleep problems, they confirmed what I pretty much knew already - I have insomnia.  They explained what they felt triggered my insomnia, explained why it has gotten worse and then went over a list of things that I could do to improve my sleep.  The good news is that insomnia is curable.  The bad news is that it takes a lot of discipline and it won't improve overnight.

I've been working on incorporating the suggestions that they made and thought I'd review them here as it seems like I encounter more and more people who struggle to sleep.  So hopefully this post will help someone who is experiencing sleep struggles!

1.  Go to bed when you are tired.  I almost feel embarrassed to start off with this because it seems so obvious, kind of like the advice to only eat when you are hungry.  But I do not have control of when I have to wake up in the morning, so I tried to control when I went to bed.  I would consider when I had to be up and go to bed at a time that would allow me to get ~8 hours of sleep.  But going to bed because "it was time to go to bed" instead of because I was tired meant that I'd often toss and turn, and then that tossing and turning would feed thoughts like, "oh my God, what if I don't fall asleep tonight?  How will I function tomorrow?"  Which made it even MORE difficult to fall asleep.  These days, I do not try to go to bed unless I am tired.  The often means staying up later than I would like, but it also means falling asleep easier.

2.  Bed is only for sleeping.  I used to read in bed before going to sleep but the doctor said to stop doing this as I need to train my brain to only associate my bed with sleep.  Now I read on my couch until I feel exhausted/near the point of falling asleep and then I go to bed.

3.  Take melatonin with dinner.  Before I started taking Ambien, and after I stopped taking Ambien in July, I habitually used melatonin.  Except I was doing it all wrong as I was taking it at bedtime.  It turns out that it's more effective to take it several hours before going to bed.  It's not supposed to illicit feelings of sleepiness - it's meant to train your body to produce more melatonin.  Now I try to take it with dinner or within a couple of hours of going to bed.

4.  If you are awake for more than 10 minutes during the night, get out of bed and go do something, like read.  This is BY FAR the hardest piece of advice to put into practice.  It's common for me to wake up during the night and not fall back asleep and the last thing I want to do at that time is get out of bed, even though I know that laying in bed and tossing and turning won't help me.  I've gotten better about being disciplined about this but it's so hard.  I usually only have to read for 20-30 minutes and then I'll feel tired enough to go back to bed, but it's still frustrating and annoying.  Some weeks I only have to do this once but last week I had to get up and read 4 nights!

Those are the 4 big things I've been doing and they are definitely helping.  I'm still not sleeping as great as I'd like to be but I'm certainly sleeping more than I did in August!  Hopefully my sleep continues to improve!

Would you characterize yourself as a good sleeper?  If you aren't, what tricks do you employ to improve your sleep? 

22 comments:

Kelly (She Wears a Red Sox Cap) said...

As you know, I am a terrible sleeper. I am now convinced mine is hormonally influenced (or something like that) because the whole time I was nursing Max I slept great (other than having a newborn!) and after I stopped BAM, back to crappy sleep. I usually fall asleep but wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back. I think waiting until I was "tired" to sleep actually wouldn't work for me because if it was late I would start getting worried right away that I wouldn't get enough sleep... or at least that's what I do when I have to stay up for some reason ha ha. I am currently back on the Unisom addiction. I fought it for several months but then finally caved last week when Max was sick and I felt like I was getting sick. The whole sleeping/getting sick thing also influences me a lot. I am ALWAYS fighting something because of kindergarten so as soon as I sleep badly, I immediately get sick, or at least think I'm going to!

I am terrible at the not reading in bed thing.... I totally do that nightly and with my kindle paperwhite I also read in the middle of the night when I can't sleep. I clearly need sleep training for adults!

Marlys said...

Like Kelly, I truly believe that some insomnia is related to hormonal issues, which made my incomnia the worst at those times of the month. If it is any consolation, now that I am in my 60's, I do sleep better! I know that doesn't help at your age, but a glimmer of hope for the future?
When I couldn't sleep, my mind also went into overdrive! Problems became huge at that time of the night, but when I awoke the next morning, I couldn't believe I stressed over such a simple solution! Age and experience have helped in that area, too.
I do get out of bed and read when I can't sleep as your Dad doesn't like the light on, so that is one thing that really does help! I do like you said, read until I get sleepy, and then hit the pillow again!
I do hope you get it cured, but know it runs in the family - both sides!

San said...

I feel for you (and all other isomniacs!) Not getting enough sleep is like the worst punishment ever! I am usually a good sleeper (and very thankful for it!) and when I do have a night where I toss and turn, I am so exhausted and grumpy in the morning. I could not imagine to deal with this on a regular basis without completely losing it.
I think it's really great that you have sought out help and that you're implementing some suggestions (and they're working!). I can imagine that the getting up at night if you can't fall back to sleep is especially hard, because I imagine that at this point you ARE tired, your body just won't shut down, right? I do hope that things will continue to improve!

I feel insomina mostly happens for me when I am stressed or worried about something and I can't get my brain to shut up. Is that the case for you too?

Marisa A. said...

I have had occasional bouts of insomnia but those were almost always stress related. I totally understand the "go to bed when you are tired". I used to panic that if I didn't go to bed right now I wouldn't get enough sleep and then I'd be tired all day. Which usually led to me lying in bed for hours unable to fall asleep. I am a firm believer though in getting out of bed if I find myself awake in the middle of the night for more than 10 minutes. Usually I only am out of bed for half an hour but it really does help with going back to sleep. I'd rather be out of bed for half an hour than awake in bed for 3. I hope implementing these things helps you sleep better! Nothing is better than waking up well rested.

suki said...

I'm a terrible sleeper, but I have gotten better. It's hard to stay asleep because I'm a light sleeper sometimes, but then other nights, I think I am so exhausted that I don't even hear the doorbell when the late night grocery delivery person rings it. I'm trying to consistently go to bed around the same time, and my body has been waking up naturally around the same time each day.

Charis Faith said...

I'm glad that you were able to visit the doctor and find ways to change what is not working. I believe that if you can train for a full marathon several times over you will also be able to train your body to sleep. Neither is easy I realize. Big hugs!!!

Linda said...

I exactly did no 4 last night! I didn't want to leave our bedroom to rile up the dogs and then wake up Sugarface so I snuck into my closet and I'm still unpacking so I didn't even have room to sit fully Indian Style without waking up SF so I hunched and read Dept of Speculation cover to cover.

Carolina John said...

You typed this with authority! LOL

Most of the time I'm a solid heavy sleeper, as long as I don't wake up with a migraine. The kids usually wake up Kelley while I sleep through it.

Caroline said...

Great tips! I have tried incorporating all of these at one point or another. They really do work! As you know, I've had a lot of trouble sleeping in my apartment the last 2 years with the noise. I really let it get in my head and I think I had a lot of anxiety around it. When I quit my job and had more control over my hours it really took the anxiety out of getting enough sleep out of the equation. OBVIOUSLY I still didn't want to be tired but I knew if I needed a nap in the afternoon, I could take one. That seemed to help a little. Then over the summer, I spent a lot of time away from my apartment and I got in a better routine with sleeping through the night and I wasn't anxious anymore. Now I'm back and I'm sleeping great. I don't hear anything. It's so weird, but I'm really thankful I got over that hump. I hope things start to improve for you soon!!

Abby said...

I was aware of the 1st 3, as one of my little responsibilities I sometimes get sucked into in my new job is supporting patients in our "Sleep Clinic" (but I do more with Sleep Apnea than insomnia....which is unfortunate because I find insomnia more interesting). #4 blew me away! That is really really interesting! And that does have to be difficult!

How is everything working for you? I pray its better than before! That wears on a person!

95% of the nights, I fall SOUND asleep within about 10 minutes of laying my head on the pillow. However, I wake up about 3 times/night on average. Which can be irritating sometimes. Now that it's finally cooling off, I'm able to fall back asleep - but during the summers (April-September) in AZ, house is miserably hot, even with AC!!

Thank you for sharing this post!

Have I told you about the time I took Melatonin when I was working night shift....and then got called into work at midnight? Ha! That was fun....

Leigh said...

Hopefully these things start to really help you! I am a deep sleeper and only occasionally trouble falling asleep (usually if I have lots on my mind). I've changed a bit since having Amelia as I wake up a bit easier if I hear her in the middle of the night.

Gracie said...

I am lucky to be a sound sleeper. I usually sleep easily and can sleep through a lot, but I still don't get enough sleep - simply because I still stay up too late!

Nora said...

The go to bed when I'm tired thing resonated with me. If I had my way, I would probably sleep midnight to 7am but with work, that isn't realistic so I usually go to bed by 10pm. Not always tired then but that's when I go up to bed and I read as well (usually). I should start listening to myself as to when I'm tired and go to bed only then. I have done it a few times and I do sleep much better when I do! I think not reading in bed/my room would be hard for me but I guess I should give it a go. Thanks for the tips!

Stephany said...

I had a bout with insomnia during 6th grade, but it was definitely related to my parents splitting up. After a year, I got back to my good sleeping habits, but it was definitely a rough time and I don't know HOW you've managed to deal with this for years.

I think the steps the sleep docs gave you were good ones to hopefully get your body transitioning to more natural sleeping patterns.

I'm very lucky in the fact that I sleep easily - fall asleep, stay asleep, etc. Dutch will sometimes wake me up when he moves around, but my problem is I always want MORE sleep, ha. ;)

Kyria @ Travel Spot said...

I remember you mentioning this to me and am so glad that it is helping, even if it's still frustrating. I think you said you were getting a lot of reading done this way! Silver lining, right?

I do seem to know a lot of people who don't sleep much though! I traveled with a friend and we shared a room and I realized she must only get a couple hours of sleep each night, as I would often wake up to the light from her phone. My other friend used to go to 24 hour Fitness at 2 or 3 in the morning, since she felt that she may as well use her time productively. However, she usually ends up in bed around 7 pm.

As a kid I used to take a long time to fall asleep. I remember camping with the family and everyone would be snoring away while I lay there, tossing and turning. As an adult, I have no issues. I usually read in bed for about 5 - 20 minutes and then I turn out the light and 5 minutes later I am asleep. I generally don't wake up unless I drank way too much water right before bed or something like that. I know I am lucky in that aspect!

Amber said...

I'm so so glad these different things you are trying are helping with your sleep -- I didn't know the one about melatonin, that is interesting! I have told a few people about #4 since finding out about it from you. My coworker gets anxiety about work and sometimes doesn't sleep well and she told me that going out to her living room to read when she's lying awake at night has been helping!

As you know my sleep has gone downhill since going of birth control at the beginning of the year. My body has really terrible temperature control because of my whacked out hormones right now so I wake up multiple times in the night either too cold or too hot. The one really lucky thing for me is that it's super easy for me to fall back asleep. Thank god for that because I would say I wake up 3 - 4 times on an average night and I always get up to go to the washroom at least once if not twice. If it was hard for me to fall back asleep after waking up that would really not be good! I am also a very light sleeper so that doesn't help.

Anyways, despite all of that I don't consider myself a "bad" sleeper since I can fall asleep easily and I don't ever feel anxious about bedtime or going to sleep. I also seem to be getting enough sleep as I rarely feel super exhausted during the day. I just wish my hormones would level out already as waking up sweating and then waking up an hour later shivering because I took all the blankets off when I was sweating is NOT FUN and I'm over it!

Becky said...

This was so interesting - what good pieces of advice! Sometimes Ben has problems sleeping because of his ADHD so I'm going to share this with him. And yay for your sleep slowly getting better!!

Jenny said...

I get tired in the early evening and try to fight it but inevitably lose and fall asleep on the sofa. It takes a while, but eventually I wake up and go to bed. This self-inflicted broken sleep leaves me groggy in the morning instead of well rested. I'm a heavy sleeper but my sleep health could use improvement! I should try your number 1 tip but I'm worried I'll just end up waking up really early!

A said...

I'm glad you posted this -- lots of good tips! I've always been a decent sleeper but I definitely go through phases when I don't sleep as well and these are good things to keep in mind when I do. Hope your sleep is continuing to improve!

Jeanie said...

I'm so glad you saw the specialist and that it seems to be helping. I am going to share this post with Rick, who has his own sleeping problems. Sometimes they are related to his bed buddy (aka me, who will sometimes cough in the night and awaken him) but he has plenty on his own. These are all wonderful tips. Keep at it!

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

I'm a pretty good sleeper minus when I have something going on and then my anxiety kicks up when it's bed time.

Jolene - EverydayFoodie said...

I go through phases where I sleep really well, and then others where I sleep poorly. I think that the more I'm worrying or stressing, the less sleep I get. I've been really trying to think about nothing while trying to fall asleep. I often wake a few times in the night though.